A tree is strong, tall, and reliable. If you leave it alone, it can grow on its own, but it's weak against fire, against a love too strong. Their love was strong, driven in the wrong direction, and now it's burnt to ashes, gray and cold.
Light eyes blink, chocolate brown beneath the sun. They are gentle and adoring, free from any... unpleasant emotions. So, Yoohyun smiles, hugging his brother's legs. When his brother smiles back, he can forget about the odd stares directed at him.
Weird, freakish, maybe even mean, those were all words that Yoohyun had heard already. Maybe not to his face, or to his family, but he heard it in the park when the children thought that he was too far to hear. Well, they didn't know that his ears were sensitive.
Still, it's not like he cared about what they were saying. Children were prone to gossip, even to bullying. At least they didn't bully him, though he could tell that they were scared. Of what?
He didn't know, and he didn't particularly care.
Though, he did care when he heard whispers about his brother. Pitiful, diligent, poor poor Yujin, still in middle school and already responsible for being a guardian. The neighbors didn't miss how their parents were never out- more like, never home, but they didn't know that- and how diligent Yujin did everything in the house.
He picked up his brother, even dropped him off before his middle school classes, and did chores for the household, washing up clothes and cooking for them. Yoohyun wanted to help, but he was apparently too young, and he began to resent his parents.
They could at least help out.
Yujin's smiles were getting dimmer with each day that passed, taut with mild exhaustion, and he looked a little desperate. Yoohyun was too, he wanted his brother to smile, at least in the way that he used to, all free and filled with happiness.
When his brother turned, his eyes a dull obsidian, the young child could only hug his legs. He didn't like seeing his brother so sad.
One time, he heard the adults talk- his parents and his brother on the living room sofa. Again, they didn't know that his ears were sensitive, and it was both a curse and a blessing. He was grateful to hear things about him, but the truth was hurtful.
"Yujin-ah, do you want to go on a vacation with us?" For a moment, Yoohyun was scared. What if his brother accepted? Would he have to fend for himself? For how long?
He only had his hyung. Only ever had his hyung.
"What about Yoohyun?"
There was silence after that, a tense and numb silence... but Yoohyun's mind was a mess. The words hit him like a bullet train speeding past thick walls, ruthless and unyielding as he trembled. His eyes sought the formulas on his math homework as if it would help, give him some sort of comfort.
Yoohyun never cared about his parents since they were always gone, but that didn't mean that it didn't hurt when they forgot that he was also their son.
"I won't even bother to ask if that was a joke. Your faces tell me enough, and I don't even know what to think. Go." There is a tremor in Yujin's voice, and his dongsaeng closed his eyes to imagine the anger on his face. Taut with fury and his hands clenched into fists. Yoohyun was happy that his brother cared about him. He didn't care about what happens as long as he had Yujin.
"Did you think that the room right next to mine was empty all along? Did you think that I just spent my life here by myself? Either way, you're terrible parents; do you realize that? I have spent every day taking care of both of us, and you don't even send us money to take care of ourselves. Is that why my birthday money is always so much? A hundred won, a thousand won. Do you think that a million won is enough?"
"Yujin, mind your tone." There was laughter, a bit hysterical, and it bounced off of the walls. It was high-pitched, a little breathless, and it never seemed to end. Yoohyun wondered if his brother had lost it.
"My tone? You're going to criticize my tone? How about we criticize how the two of you are always gone, overseas for some sort of vacation? Our neighbors are whispering that you're both useless parents. Honestly, I'm not about to correct them. You're neglectful, insensitive, and afraid of a child. Ever since he was born, you told me that you felt off about him. What's so off about him? What's so wrong about your own child?"
"We don't know!" This time, Yoohyun didn't need sensitive ears to hear that. The shout filtered through the walls, probably spread across the neighborhood, and he was already done with hearing their voices. "Hyung is suffering so much because of them."
"I just can't look at him! Every time that I see him, I feel so afraid. You don't think that it hurts us? That we're not ashamed? He's our son and I can't even look at him! Still, even though I know that, I won't look at him! I refuse to look at him! I don't want him!"
"That's not my problem! I'm not going to sit here and counsel you when that's your own damn problem. You're the adults here, and you expect me to give you some miracle solution? I don't have one, and I'm not about to help you either. We've already spent years without the two of you, and I don't care anymore. Just give us some money then go on your vacation. Have fun, or don't, that's not our problem."
The next morning, Yujin took Yoohyun to a bakery around the corner. He bought a cake for the two of them, saying that they had a little more funds. Still, his eyes were haunted, seemingly darker than before.
Yoohyun didn't dare mention how he heard their conversation.
It had been a simple funeral for their parents, a couple lost at sea. They had died during a storm, had been stuck in the Caribbean or something. Yoohyun didn't really care about the details; their parents had been long dead to him. He wasn't about to love them when they so clearly hated him. Talking about fear and disgust, about feeling uncomfortable with him; well Yoohyun wasn't about to argue against people who couldn't deal with their own children.
Still, he hated the way that his brother trembled before their photos, his eyes wide, bloodshot, with indescribable emotions. There was a moment when Yoohyun saw a flash of regret, and he hated it- did his hyung regret staying with him?
His own head bowed, his fingers clenching around a piece of fabric. There was a ruffle of clothes until there was only silence, a distance between them despite how close they already were. Without meaning to, Yoohyun eventually closed his eyes- he didn't need to see their pictures, the way that they smiled.
When did they ever smile at him? He didn't think that they ever did.
There had always been a silent promise of 'forever.' When Yujin took care of his younger brother, dropped out of school to work. When he had defended him against their parents, even against the neighborhood children. Did the words "I'll protect you forever" need to be said aloud?
They hadn't thought so. There had never been a need before.
But, when dungeons broke around the world and Yuhyun awakened as an S-rank, some kind of superhero about to save the world from monsters. When that young child, that clingy and adoring boy became famous, that unspoken promise vanished as if erased from their minds.
Lucifer grabbed Yuhyun by the shoulders, bound him in front of the vicious wolves. They threatened his brother's safety and mocked him for starting a guild- not even 20, barely an adult, and he was already jumping over the walls.
The demon of pride was vicious, placing cold hands against the adolescent's eyes. He whispered in his ears, doubts and obsessive fears, so that the child would keep silent. His hands were bound before they could even reach Yujin.
Not that the man would have heard.
Perhaps, their relationship could have been saved; communication could have mended the bridge before it could have been broken, but Yuhyun shut his brother out and Yujin had his own demon tearing into him. Lucifer might be vicious, but Leviathan was kind.
It gave him hope.
Leviathan settled around his neck and hissed softly into his ears. Gentle talons lifted his head, forcing him to look up at the stairs. It was a path that he couldn't walk, but Yuhyun was up there, his precious dongsaeng.
The dragon was manipulative, it told him to search for a path. He wasn't an S-rank, but he could still stand at the top. If only he could become like Yuhyun, then the promise could be kept. He was a foolish man, far too desperate.
If only Yuhyun hadn't been an S-rank, if he could have paid Yujin some mind. Ah, he could only remember when he left.
"Hyung..." that young man had said, but Yujin didn't dare turn his head. Fragile shoulders shook as his heart trembled, listening to their soft breaths. How many minutes did they stand there, one calling out to their brother and the other with his back to the youngest?
'I'm so useless.' But, when Yujin turned his head, the room had been empty, the door left open. His brother had left, and the eldest wondered if there was room for regret on the shoulders occupied by Leviathan.
Yujin saw a dream that night. There was a large tree, of emerald leaves and a tall, reliable trunk. Light spilled from between the leaves, bathing the ground around it with warmth. Haunted eyes approached with weary steps, exhausted beyond belief. He thought that he could rest, even for just a second but, beneath the shade sat two children, the two brothers that he knew about more than anybody else.
"Hyung!" The youngest called, and the oldest replied with a smile brighter than the sun. Lucifer was vicious and Leviathan was kind, but they both brought the flames of hell, burning down the tree where they rested upon.
Yujin could only watch as the tree fell down, tearing the two brothers apart with flames that rose up taller than they were. His heart ached with an emotion that he could barely grasp, and he woke up with a gasp, but he had already forgotten about the vision.
"Hyung..." It was barely a whisper, more like a fragment of the wind, and the eldest of the two struggled to breathe. He hated this man, he hated his dongsaeng more than their deceased and previously neglectful parents, but he also loved Yuhyun with all of his heart, which protected the memories of a long-forgotten promise. So Yujin couldn't bear to see his brother dead on the ground, where he couldn't rest forever in peace- dungeons were no burial grounds.
For a moment, the laughter of two children beneath the rustling leaves filtered into Yujin's ears, accompanied him as he stared at his brother's body. And, just like the laughter that empowered his veins, the crackling of fire set his heart ablaze. The blood rushed through his body, vigor and confidence twice what his brother had, and he took it upon himself to avenge his brother's death.
But, vengeance did not bring his brother back, nor did it ease the resentment that had festered deep within his heart. He resented his brother for being so strong, for being born with a talent that broke them apart. He resented himself for pushing his brother away, for being so envious and stubborn, so weak and helpless until the very end. He resented their parents, the world that had changed, that monster, and everything that he had ever had to experience.
He resented and felt angry, until he had nothing left, watching the blood of the Lauchitas puddle beneath itself. It was alive, but not for long, and Yujin sat upon its body. For a moment, he felt that it was his throne, the proof of his strength, the power borrowed from his dead brother, and he felt his heart shatter again.
Useless. He was useless until the very end, wallowing in self-pity with the flames of his resentment reigniting. Useless. So useless.
The achievement of killing the Lauchitas appeared before his eyes. Useless.
He found the reward, a wish stone that could not bring his brother back. Useless.
And, he felt the desire to wish for strength greater than his brother's, for him to stand at the top. The unreachable had become possible, Leviathan still rested upon his shoulders. But, he knew that the thought had become useless. Those very whispers had led to many regrets. He had too many to count already, a mountain that would act as his grave.
So, instead, he wished for the time when everything was better than it had become. He wished for time to return to when his brother was still alive. Five years, maybe ten, he promised to live well.
He would exist with his head down, living in his brother's wealth but still so quiet that he might as well not have existed.
If only he knew what his brother had become; perhaps, he would have thought such promises useless.
Yujin was his hyung, that could never change. Really, there was no way that he could let him go to an awakening broker, not when it would just endanger Yujin. And, if he earned his brother's hatred, which he felt that he already had, having a brother that hated him was better than not having one.
But, when he slammed that door open, his brother had apologized instead, and Yuhyun felt his heart stop. He had expected an argument, the bitter glare directed his way. He had expected resentment and an overwhelming amount of vitriol raining upon him, but his concern and the whisper of longing for his brother, both of which he had silenced with no remorse, gently washed away when his brother hugged Yuhyun.
It was a tender hug, gentle and cautious, slender arms around a body much more muscular than the older brother. It left Yuhyun wanting, it left him craving for more, and it strengthened his resolve to protect his one and only hyung. And, even though his hyung had also rejected him, hated him like their long-deceased parents, the memories of his only family could never be erased. It was these memories of kindness, of the steadfast and reliable hyung, that the S-Class hunter clung to the most- at least, until that moment when his brother hugged him.
"I love you." It was like those years of turmoil, of missing his brother, had never existed. That the whispers of a promise long forgotten had never been forgotten in the first place. Yuhyun clung to his brother and kept him close, promising to himself that nothing will tear them apart. Despite the urgent whispers of Lucifer, the affection that Yuhyun had held back was already overflowing into the ashes of their bond. A soft cry came from within that grey mound.
"I'll protect him." A small head of a bird, whose feathers were ruby with tips of citrine, appeared from within the mound of ashes.
"I'll make sure that he has everything that he desires." The more ardent the affection, the more that the bird grew.
"Hyung is so weak, I have to make sure that nothing harms him." Until its tail has brushed the ashes away, flames flickering upon the citrine tips.
"Even if I have to kill everyone." The bird gave a shrill cry, a melody of years of suppressed affection, of a promise nearly forgotten.
"Even if I have to burn everything to the ground." An ode to the tree that stood in their past.
A tree is strong, tall, and reliable. If you leave it alone, it can grow on its own, but it's weak against fire, against a love too strong. Their love was strong, driven in the wrong direction, and it's now burnt to ashes, gray and cold.
But a love so strong can give birth to new creations, and from the ashes breathed a gentle bird. It grew with red feathers, igniting their love again. This time, their love is not a tree. Rather, it is a phoenix.